Judas Priest have had an interesting and turbulent history – including going on trial in the USA having being accused of causing the suicide of a boy through inserting backward / subliminal messages into their songs.
Perhaps Judas Priest have the craziest history of any metal band. Including Manowar. Or even Metallica. One that makes Spinal Tap look like a spoof documentary. Er, no hang on…
If you were to make a list of Stereotypical Things That Metal Bands Do, they’d score highly on the list:
- Sing about robots a lot. (Grinder, The Hellion, Metal Gods, Painkiller etc etc)? Check. Say what you like about Wham! but they never sang about robots…
- Produce a ludicrous and brilliantly (unintentionally?) hilarious video. Breaking The Law depicts the band robbing a bank by opening the safe with the power of unplugged Flying V guitars? Check. The acting in that Breaking The Law video made Arnold Schwarzenegger look like Gielgud. I love the way the drummer appears in the banking hall as if by magic.
Other things Judas Priest have done?
- Denied ever “selling out” and then recorded songs with Stock, Aitken and Waterman? Check. (Still not entirely clear what happened there).
- Replaced the lead singer with a guy in their own tribute band, (a story that the film Rock Star was based upon)? Check.
- Recorded a thirteen minute song about the Loch Ness Monster? Check.
Perhaps the saddest and most bizarre episode in the band’s career was when they were accused of deliberately inserting backward messages into their album Stained Class, (on their cover of Better By You, Better Than Me) which, it was alleged, drove two young teenagers to enter into a suicide pact. One boy died, the other survived, albeit with major reconstructive surgery to his face. There was a superb TV documentary about this many years ago called “Dream Deceivers” which featured the families involved, court footage and the band’s reaction to the very serious and somber events as they developed. It was a stunning film, made at a time in America when rock music was under scrutiny for its potential effects on the behaviour of children.
The prosecution fell apart when it was discovered that the “expert” they had used to find the backwards messages had also found secret messages on boxes of Ritz crackers, $5 bills, chocolate biscuits and other everyday items, which rather damaged his credibility.
The documentary showed the moment in court when the records were played backwards and it did indeed make a sound at one point which sounded vaguely like “Do It” – but as the band pointed out “Do what? Mow the lawn?”. (A better backwards message might be “you’ve just ruined your stylus”…). The sound was caused entirely randomly by the way Rob Halford sang a particular line.
The judge was also not entirely convinced the prosecution had proven that a message only audible when played backwards might influence an individual’s actions. I owned the album on cassette. Perhaps that saved me: all that rewinding would have ruined my Sony Walkman.
The documentary then showed Halford, dressed demurely in a suit, then demonstrate his singing into a microphone for the judge’s benefit. This showed how such messages could be created quite innocently and at random. After he had recovered his hearing, and his nerves, the judge rightly dismissed the case and justice was done.
Record # 49 Judas Priest – Better By You, Better Than Me
Pictures copyright and taken at Hammersmith Odeon in 1989 by EveryRecordTellsAStory. All Rights Reserved.
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